An OSH strategy for the informal economy in "El Programa Salud, Trabajo y Ambiente (SALTRA)"

Occupational safety and health in the informal economy

The protection of the health and well-being of workers in the informal economy is a challenge which should be faced with a coherent and integrated approach involving policies for occupational safety and health (OSH) and health promotion, skills development, social protection and employment creation. Enlarged partnerships at the community level could also facilitate and maximize long-lasting improvements in working and living conditions of informal economy workers.

Since the 90’s ILO’s approach to OSH has focused in developing innovative, participatory and action oriented measures to support economic units in the urban informal economy, home-based workers, informal construction or mining sites and small-scale farmers in subsistence agriculture by means of introducing preventive measures to protect workers’ health and safety and finding low cost solutions to improve working conditions. A number of training tools and programmes have been developed and/or adapted for that purpose. There have also been a number of ILO initiatives with member States to deal with occupational health promotion through the extension of occupational health services to the informal economy. Evidence from ILO’s technical cooperation suggests that with the appropriate support informal economy operators can move from a situation of mere survival to a stronger economic position enhancing their working and living conditions, their contribution to economic growth and eventually their social integration into the formal economy.

At present, the International Labour Conference is discussing in a double session (2014-2015) a proposed instrument that, if adopted by the International Labour Conference in 2015, should take the form of a Recommendation. This Recommendation should recognize the need to take urgent measures to enable the gradual transitions of workers and economic units from the informal economy to the formal economy while ensuring that opportunities for livelihood and entrepreneurship are not destroyed. In this context, effective OSH measures in the informal economy units should not wait for their formalization but be taken immediately to protect workers’ health and improve their standards of living, and at the same time, be part of a transitional strategy to formalize the informal economy. The instrument should provide guidance to ILO member States to accomplish this goal.